Tuesday, April 26, 2016

MOP April 26--In Spirit and Truth

One goal I had for our two days in Washington, DC, was to attend a service at the National Cathedral.

So we did, Paul and Matt and I.

It made me wonder if I was born for liturgy and pipe organs and high stained-glass windows instead of long sermons from lay ministers, a capella congregational singing, and CLP quarterlies.

Sitting there in the marble vastness of the cathedral, following the printed bulletin, responding half a beat behind the right time [Mennonites aren't made for liturgy, says my sister-in-law Rosie], and gazing up at those high soaring pointed arches in all directions,  I felt my soul lifting up up UP in a deep sense of worship that I had previously experienced only in nature, such as the time I walked home in the dark from a women's prayer group meeting in Canada and stood still in the snow, gazing upward, as a phenomenal display of Northern lights swirled and swooped with joy.

The post-Easter liturgy, with its carefully chosen Scriptures and prayers, and our responsive Amens, fit perfectly with the formal and ornate setting.

The homily was a nice little speech, but it lacked the specific exposition of Scripture that we get at our home church, and the congregational singing was such that I was singing louder and better than anyone around me, which is never the case back at Brownsville.

So I've thought a lot, since, about the different ways we worship, and what is meaningful for us, and how much we ought to deliberately combine beauty and worship.

Before we went to DC, we spent a few days in Virginia, staying at my sister's place with my nephew, Jason, who grew up a solid Presbyterian but has chosen as an adult to attend an Anglican church.  Normally the Anglican church in America is called Episcopalian, but due to doctrinal differences with the American headquarters, some churches have pulled away, and his at least is a daughter church of the Anglican church in Africa.

Jason says that someone studied the demographics of his church--and I don't recall if it was his congregation only or the entire denomination--and the third-highest-represented group was artists.

Which tells me that maybe the practical farmer types respond to an unadorned service and building, and we creative types feel drawn to something more elaborate and visually and verbally pleasing.

Never fear, I don't plan to leave Brownsville Mennonite for more liturgical pastures.

But I'm thinking I could incorporate elements of it into my private worship times.  Maybe some deliberate beauty in a vase of flowers nearby and the Book of Common Prayer.

As you can see, the Cathedral is beautiful.

It is also huge--one of the ten largest in the world, I'm told.  The Washington Monument could lie down in the center aisle.

After the service, Matt took us through doors and down stairs and around columns and past little rabbit-warren hallways, into smaller chapels the size of our sanctuary at home, past crypts in the basement walls, and Helen Keller buried in a column.

I found the crypts somewhat disturbing.
It was fascinating.

You should go see it.

In one of the rabbit warrens down below, I saw this
mysterious little door, with a glow behind it.
What ever could it be?

Oh.  This.
For more MOP posts go to Emily's blog here and Jenny's here.


  1. I love the way you THINK about things, letting them marinate and brew before maturing into something beautiful. If only the world had a million more Dorcases, we wouldn't be arguing so much.

  2. I am so intrigued that you found the liturgy worshipful -I couldn't get past the stiffness of it. And was distracted wondering what Jesus would think of the gift shop in the basement and tourists wandering around taking pictures while the service was in progress. I think I missed what inspired you! On the other hand, I enjoyed the crypts... what a majestic place to RIP. :)

  3. I find liturgy worshipful as well. I'm not sure I'd like it all the time...I think it could soon become rote to me. (And I really appreciate the spirit of brotherhood we have in our real life, and our testimony meeting in church which gives us a sense of family and intimacy.) But when I stick to the occasional Ash Wednesday or Christmas eve service, it really means a lot to me.
    -one whose anabaptist service is properly stripped of as many externals as we can!

  4. I love the cathedral too. I've never been there for a service, though I've always wanted to. But I do treasure the time some friends and I sat in one of those basement chapels and sang songs in four part harmony.
    I loved your thoughts on liturgy, and beauty with worship.

  5. It is a valuable lesson for humanity, that there is no one "true" way to worship. God is the ultimate creative force, and as such, shouldn't there be infinite ways in which to express awe and appreciation for God? We do ourselves, and God, a terrible disservice when we disrespect others' ways of worship. Thank you for this post, Dorcas. You are a solid voice for not only tolerance, but appreciation of others' ways.

  6. As a "cradle Episcopalian," I'm so glad you enjoyed the service at the Cathedral! It can be a blessing to experience how other denominations conduct worship services, if one approaches it the way you do.

  7. Thanks, Dorcas, for your thoughtful perspective on worship - a great reminder that each of our personality types are moved in various ways. I don't know how a formal liturgical setting might stir me but I do know how, when I'm alone in the confines of my van, I belt out a worship song along with the radio while drumming vigorously on the steering wheel in a most unanabaptist manner! Worshiping in spirit and in truth engages our God-given personalities rather than denying them. As always, a great blog, Dorcas!